It mirrors coastal KwaZulu-Natal with its sugar cane fields and sapping humidity. It shares, too, the Indian influences in cuisine, religion, and culture.
In the capital of Port Louis, there is an oddity from a similar colonial past that echoes Cape Town. The Mauritian capital’s Signal Mountain - which, despite its aspirational name, is actually 27m shorter than its Signal Hill counterpart - has an almost identical topography and history as the city’s look-out point and site of the noon time signal.
When I first visited Mauritius as a teen, almost 50 years ago, it was a dirt-poor country, enamoured with radical socialism. My brief stay coincided with the declaration of a five-year state of emergency, which restricted the populist Mouvement Militant Mauricien and led to the detention of its leader, Paul Berenger.
So, something else that is instinctually accessible to South Africans is that poisoned chalice of a fractious past, of countries where poverty coincides with racial, ethnic and class cleavages. In Mauritius, too, are lingering resentments over land ownership and historical privilege.
But it’s the differences between these two African Union countries, geographically just a skip-and-jump apart, that matter more than the sameness. No load shedding. Lightning-fast internet that is cheap and ubiquitous.
Last year, the Mauritian media got itself all in a tizz when the number of homicides increased by a staggering 34% on 2017’s figures.
To place it in context, all of 107 people were murdered in Mauritius in 2018, which is still five fewer in total than the number of people murdered in SA in just two days. Per 100000, the Mauritian murder rate is 3.2, SA’s is more than 11 times higher.
Economically, Mauritius has been faced with the challenge of dealing with globalisation pressures, especially - like SA - on the sugar and textile sectors. Unlike SA, Mauritius has eschewed doctrinal purism, radical experimentation and threats of expropriation, in favour of moderate policies to encourage offshore financial services, tourism, property investment, and an efficient, low-tax gateway to business in Africa.
Economic growth has been a steady 5% per annum since independence in 1968. Gross Domestic Product per capita is now US$10490 (R148227.37) - more than 40% higher than SA - but more tellingly, while SA’s per capita GDP has basically flat-lined for 30 years, the Mauritian one has increased by more than 150%.
On the World Bank’s index on ease of doing business, Mauritius occupied the 23rd position in 2006, while SA was 28th. In 2019, Mauritius is now 20th, SA is 82nd.
Our unemployment rate is more than 27%, Mauritius’s rate is 7%. Although income inequality in Mauritius has increased, it is still 40% less unequal than SA.
Poverty has been reduced to 8% of the population and is decreasing. According to StatsSA, 55% of our people live in poverty and the number is increasing.
While it’s difficult for the ANC and its ideologically Neanderthal allies in the tripartite alliance to swallow the fact, there are better ways of governing a country than the failed model that the ANC has been pursuing for a quarter century.
Academic analyses show that key factors are democracy, political freedom and a legal code that is enforced. But as the Brenthurst Foundation’s Greg Mills points out in an excellent new book*, it’s also critically about taking what one can from the past and “creating a civil polity” that is inclusive of everyone in the nation.
Mills interviews Mauritius’s enfant terrible of the left, the once-jailed Berenger who eventually became prime minister and is now in opposition. Berenger says that one of the reasons Mauritius did not go the way of the rest of Africa is that radical policies were never implemented.
Although he saw it as a betrayal at the time: “If we had (gone that route), we might have ended up another Zimbabwe.”
* Democracy Works: Rewiring Politics to Africa’s Advantage, by Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo, Jeffrey Herbst and Tendai Biti. Picador Africa, Johannesburg, 2019.
* William Saunderson-Meyer is a columnist with the Independent On Saturday. He is @TheJaundicedEye on Twitter.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.INDEPENDENT ON SATURDAY